While no one is challenging his credentials, Texan Granger Smith has more in common with multi-tooled pop stars than he does with the Nashville country crowd. Well before his breakout 2016 record Remington, which included the Gold-certified single "Backroad Song," Smith had already secured a weekly segment on CBS Sports Network's Inside College Football, launched a clothing company, amassed a massive social media following and released a staggering seven records, plus a live album. He had created an empire before his success through a manic work ethic and outside-the-box strategy. But with his success seemingly allowing him to slow down and focus, he’s remained busier than ever, and the result might be his best record yet.
When the Good Guys Win, out October 27th, is a departure from Smith's business as usual. Instead of keeping a hand in all of his albums' tracks as he has in the past, for his latest, he chose almost half of the 14 cuts from other writers, the product of a show-and-tell he encouraged during their days with him on the road. But Smith still made time for deeply personal songs like "Happens Like That," his current single, which is well into the Top 40 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart after 14 weeks. The result is a record with a big sound that plays like a well-organized mix tape, with clear themes of love, integrity and faithfulness.
With the initial success of "Backroad Song," you got your record deal with Broken Bow imprint Wheelhouse Records, which led to Remington and now to When the Good Guys Win. How does it feel to look back on the years leading to it?
I look back now, and there was never a better time for me to have a national break. Because I'm nothing without those years. Every innovative idea came from tons of failed experiments. It took years and different situations for them to grow. It took the empty dance halls, the empty clubs. It took making an album from scratch with no money, trying to sell it without a song on the radio. It took all those things to get my brain and my brother Tyler's brain [who has managed Smith since 2008] to think in terms of innovation.
What's the story behind the title of your new record, When the Good Guys Win?
It was late coming. It was originally going to be called Not Everybody Lives. There's a song called "Everybody Lives," and it really encompasses a feeling that I’ve had about the whole record of living in the moment and taking advantage of what we have today. We sent the album off to get printed, and [then] Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, my home state, and we kind of threw up our hands and said, "We can’t release an album called Not Everybody Lives after a hurricane." So we scrambled a bit, and we all unanimously agreed on When the Good Guys Win. It actually fit. It felt right from the beginning when we did that, and it still feels like it was meant to be that.
Would you consider yourself a "good guy"? What makes a good guy?
It's not really self-proclaimed. It has to be given to you. When I got the record deal in 2015, a lot of people sent me texts saying, "I'm happy for you, buddy. It’s nice to see the good guys win." That is the best compliment anyone could give me, because integrity is more associated with "good guy" than freak talent. You’re born with freak talent, but you have to cultivate integrity. You have to really wake up in the morning and want to be a good guy. I need to also say, when I’m talking about this title, when I was singing the song, I was speaking to rural Middle America, the country music demographic. You see them lining up outside of shows, and you go, "There’s some good guys right there." I love that there’s a song now that can just go directly to them.
This record, as opposed to 2016's Remington, features a mix of songs you wrote and songs from other writers. What brought about the change?
I was stuck on the road one hundred percent of the time making this album, so the only way I could do this was to have writers come to me. It wasn't so much about the strict process of a writing room at 10 a.m. and the assembly-line process of making songs. It was more about, "Let's hang out, eat some food, go to sound check, and if we have anything, we'll write it. If we don’t, we’ll go to the show and drink some beer and try again tomorrow." And that was great. There’s no pressure. It used to be, "Alright, if we don’t finish it today, I have November 17 open." That’s ridiculous that that was the old process and this one was so much more about finding something that felt good and telling a story that felt good.
Some of my great friends came out and they would stay on the bus with me and ride for four or five days and we would write. Almost every time I did that, one group or one guy would have something that they’d just written. It needed to have a story that I could be the spokesman of, and I loved taking on that new responsibility, saying, "You guys have a message, and I want to be the guy that tells it to the world."
Do you feel like this new process represents maturation for you as an artist?
I’m very much a control freak in so many aspects, so relinquishing that control of writing it was a big step for me.
You're currently on Luke Bryan's Huntin,' Fishin,' & Lovin' Every Day tour. Did you talk about his American Idol position before it was announced?
This is how this conversation went: "So, your tour is going to end in California on the 28th?" And he goes, "Yeah." "You going to take some time off?" He said, "I don’t think so, and I'm not allowed to say yet, but I think I’m going to go right into something else on TV." And I knew it has to be Idol, right? Or Dancing With the Stars. Luke’s a great guy. He’s taken this role as big brother to me, which I’ve accepted as little brother. It’s fun.
You recently started an energy drink line and a podcast. With all the other ancillary projects you’re involved in, does it ever feel like there’s too much going on?
Every day I think that, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad. When I’m in a whirlwind like I am right now and I finish a bunch of projects, I look back and go, "I’m so glad we just dug our heels in and finished it, because it’s important." But when I’m in that whirlwind, I’m thinking I wish I could just pick one thing. It hasn’t changed in 10 years. My brother Tyler came onboard and started managing me in 2008, and ever since then, if we finish something, we’re starting something else. For instance, if it’s a new alter-ego character, we’re going to go ahead and start that, and see where that path leads. At the beginning, people were going, "You guys must have a lot of time on your hands." And we knew it might seem like that from the outside – here I am creating some character and writing a song – but when Earl Dibbles Jr., exploded, a lot of people said, "Oh, so you had a plan." We did, and we still do.
How has your reliance on Dibbles changed since your record deal?
It's definitely less now. The simple answer is national radio. When we got national radio with "Backroad Song," it flipped the scales. I can’t imagine a world without Earl right now. But every gimmick, whether it’s Seinfeld or whatever, has a shelf life. What doesn’t have a shelf life is Granger and his music. My crowd might dwindle down to not many people one day, but I’ll always make music as an old man and go sit on a stool in a theater. Now, as far as putting on the overalls [as Dibbles], one day that’ll end.
As a football fan, what’s your take on the NFL’s players kneeling during the anthem?
I think we’ve all learned a lot, hearing both sides. I was on a plane and I pulled up the "Star-Spangled Banner," because this all revolves around it. So I thought, I’m going to read – not sing and not listen – to the words and try to put myself in that time, when this country and the ideals that we celebrate were just being formed. That flag back then wasn't the iconic flag that we see every day. It was a brand new vision. And the vision was that we were all created equal, that we’d have equal opportunity, freedom from oppression, freedom of religion and speech. And so, because of that, it is within our rights to do whatever we want during that National Anthem. We could kneel. I personally believe that the only thing we have are those words and that flag as a form of unity. If you were going to kneel all day long, except when that anthem plays, that would be my thought. Stand for the anthem and kneel the rest of the day. So, to summarize, they have the right to kneel, and I don’t have a problem with anyone exercising their right, but you’re damn right I would not do that.